Book Review: Gaming the System (Designing with Gamestar Mechanic)

This book — Gaming the System: Designing with Gamestar Mechanic — could not have arrived at a better time. I am knee-deep in our science-based video game design project right now, and while I have done gaming for a few years now and have a pretty solid handle on it, this look at game design through the lens of systems provides me with a fresh insight into the learning that is going on each day in my classroom.

The book is part of a series put out by MIT Press called INTERCONNECTIONS: Understanding Systems Through Digital Design.  There was a NWP Blogtalk radio show with the writers/editors that is worth checking out. I should note that I was an early reader of another book in this series, and received a free version of that book for my time and effort. But I did not read this one on gaming and bought for it myself. Also, the National Writing Project is one of the partners in the putting together the series, so I do know some of the folks involved.

This book, while somewhat pricey for a cash-strapped teacher, gives a powerful look at the potential of game design, connections to literacy and science standards, and plays out like a how-to guide for getting started and how to push kids further into complex thinking. It references Gamestar Mechanic as its base of game design (a site which I also use) and includes numerous screenshots, handouts, reference sheets and lesson plan ideas for implementing gaming in a constructivist approach.

And all of this is done through the lens of “systems,” which is a conceptual frame of thinking of the whole being a sum of its parts, and how changes in one part of the system change the whole. Think of weather patterns. Or political maps. Or airports. Or manufacturing. While those are pretty advanced systems to consider for young people, game design makes it real by bringing them into a system they understand, and showing how a designer’s intentional approach changes the system of the game. It’s a brilliant approach, really, and I realize now that I have been teaching Systems withou quite realizing it, and without using some of the domain specific vocabulary that I now have in my pocket for our work in the classroom.

Here is a quote that helps frame this concept:

A game can be considered a system because how the game is played and how the game play unfolds are the results of multiple interactions among different components … It’s important to be able to reflect not only on how a system might be functioning currently, but also on how a designer might have intended it to operate (or intended to change it). — page 200-201

I’ve bookmarked a fair number of pages in my copy of Gaming the System, and I intend to share it with my science colleague (whom is my partner in our game design project) and if my new principal walks in for an observation and wonders why everyone is playing video games in ELA class, I have some materials to help me make my case about the value of our science-based video game design project.

Peace (in the system),
Kevin

Hour of Code: The Classroom 2.0 Live Archive

In case you are curious, here is the archived recording of a conversation that my colleague, Gail Poulin, and I had about coding and literacy and learning over at Classroom 2.0 Live. It was a lively conversation, with lots of sharing, and connecting into the Hour of Code initiative that takes place this week as part of Computer Science Week.

Along with the media archive, there is a long list of coding resources available at the Livebinder created for the session. While Gail and I had some started links and resources, it was the sharing by everyone in the session from around the world that makes the Livebinder a keeper.

Check out the Hour of Code Livebinder.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Compose/DeCompose

Before you read this, read this.

mmm (sips coffee)

mmm (pets dog)

mmm (eats banana)

Are you back? Did you read it? Man, I love when people like Terry do that … pulling back the curtain on digital composing. As I was reading his piece it occurred to me … we work differently. I was reading as he talked about the lists he makes, the lines he draws out, the resources he has at his finger tips, the thoughtfulness that goes into what he composes (in this case, with Zeega). He’s got a system.

He leads with the brain, and reaches for the heart.

Me?

I start at the heart, and aim for the brain.

What I mean is that when I do what Terry explains he is doing (honoring someone’s blog post by remixing it with digital media via Zeega), I dive in and let the muse take me to where it will in a person’s piece. I’m searching for anchor phrases and trying to find the center of the blog post. I hate to admit it — but I don’t think too much about it. I trust my instincts to find where it is I need to go.

Mostly, it works. I think. And Terry’s process? Oh yeah, it works, too. Both of our methods work, and there are probably a myriad of others out there (what’s yours?) but mostly, they seem a mystery to your audience. Doing as Terry has done — showing what he is thinking about as he composes and the tools he is using to compose what he is thinking about — is a valuable analysis, providing insights to the writer.

Here’s a Zeega I did this week in honor of Jim Groom’s fantastic piece about connected learning called Connected by Design. My composing process?

  • I read Jim’s post quickly once after finding it in my Twitter feed (via #ccourses)
  • Went back, read it again
  • Opened up Zeega
  • Picked phrases and sentences that resonated with me. Interested that he had also chosen some phrases and ideas from others, using those as anchors in his text. So I am anchoring my anchors in his anchors. Recursive anchors?
  • Considered fonts. Spent more time in fonts than anything else. Not sure why. Seemed important. How does shape of letters inform our composition? Not satisfied with fonts but gave up on it after a time.
  • Used the Zeega search engine to find animated gifs as background (struggled here for a stretch … what’s too busy? what’s evocative? what pushes up against the words?) Thought, what about still images? Fell back to animated images. Seems more Zeega-like.
  • Did a search for “connected” on Soundcloud. Replaced one track with another when I noticed the Stereo MCs in the mix. Like the shuffling hiphoppiness of the track. Connects to the freeflowing ideas of Jim’s post (in my mind, anyway).
  • Published Zeega and posted and shared with Connected Courses.

Peace (in decomposing the composition),
Kevin

Collaborative Coding with Kindergarteners

Hour of Code Collaboration 2014

In anticipation of the Hour of Code next week, my colleague Gail Poulin and I gathered her kindergarteners and my sixth graders together for our own Morning of Coding yesterday. We teamed up our classes, and each group worked on a coding activity at Code.org based on the movie, Frozen, where the task is to create visual fractals with Blockly code. Think of it like Legos as programming. (By the way, the activities at Hour of Code work great on interactive boards for whole-class activities and there are no-tech coding games available, too).

To be frank, we were not sure how it would go, but it soon become clear that the kids are alright … they figured it out (for the most part) and spent the time fully engaged as partners in code. Most groups got through about seven or eight levels of the game, but one group – two boys – almost made it all the way to level 20.

Hour of Code

Gail and I will be on Classroom 2.0 Live later today (noon on the East Coast of United States), chatting up the PD webinar about coding and literacy and technology and learning. Come on over, if you have time, to participate in the conversation. We’d love to see you there.


Link to join the session: 

http://tinyurl.com/cr20live

Full link: https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?sid n=2008350&password=M.438D554F4A450D77B901E14104C303
NOTE: When you click on the link to log in, enter your OWN full name in the box so we will know who you are (not the topic of the webinar).

Show Times:
9:00am Pacific/10:00am Mountain
11:00am Central/12:00pm Eastern

Time Zone Converter
Check for correct time in your area using the Time Zone Converter link.
Twitter hashtag:
#liveclass20

Peace (under the hood),
Kevin

Gauging Student Interest in the STEM Video Game Challenge

 

There’s a caveat to this post: my sixth graders have only just started the design stage of a science-based video game project. But I have already introduced them to the possibility of submitting their final video games (still a few weeks away from completion) to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Among other things, I am trying to help my students see an audience much larger than our classroom and to view their project as something with more potential than just a grade from me for the work they do. I want them to be creating a piece of digital work for the world.

Sure, it might be that the potential rewards and recognition is what interests them in this kind of video game design challenge. That’s OK. Extrinsic rewards can provide a path to intrinsic rewards, and I am already noticing a deep consideration of story, game design, quality and science as they begin moving from brainstorming and storyboarding into the design phase of their game projects on Gamestar Mechanic (which is a partner with the video challenge, meaning students can submit games into the STEM Video Game Challenge right through Gamestar, which makes things a bit easier on our end).

This graph shows the results of a question as part of the brainstorming process: Would you be interested in submitting your science-based game to the STEM Video Game Challenge? I am pleased at how many are considering that option (with the understanding that anyone can change their mind later on).

Interest in STEM Video Game Competition

Time to make the games …

Peace (in the challenge),
Kevin

Chatting Up the Hour of Code

Hour of Code

I have the good fortune of being asked to hang out online this Saturday afternoon for a bit with my friend and colleague, Gail Poulin, as we talk about the Hour of Code, which kicks off next week. Gail teaches Kindergarten at my school, and we are bringing out students together tomorrow to do some coding activities as collaborative.

On Saturday, as part of the Classroom 2.0 Live series, Gail and I will be in a Blackboard Collaborate session (at noon, on the East Coast), as we talk about coding and literacy, and technology integration in the classroom. And, who knows what else we might wander into … You can join us, too, in the online discussion space.

Here is information from Classroom 2.0 Live:

Full link: https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?sid n=2008350&password=M.438D554F4A450D77B901E14104C303
NOTE: When you click on the link to log in, enter your OWN full name in the box so we will know who you are (not the topic of the webinar).

Show Times:
9:00am Pacific/10:00am Mountain
11:00am Central/12:00pm Eastern

Time Zone Converter
Check for correct time in your area using the Time Zone Converter link.
Twitter hashtag:
#liveclass20

Peace (it’s more than code),
Kevin

The Good and the Bad (of Game Design)

As we begin our video game design unit, we spent time talking about and working with games. The other day, we wrote and then discussed the elements of game design, with the question of what makes a good game good and a bad game bad? Here are word clouds with the main ideas shared by students over four classes. (Note: we did not focus on video games specifically, but any game — board, card, recess, sports, etc.)

As they begin designing their own science-based video games in the coming days, we will be referring back to these word clouds as a guide for them to remember what makes a game good and what potentially makes a game boring.

Interestingly, this is the first year that advertising and in-app purchases became part of our conversations. Most were annoyed about the “free” entry to a game, only to be confronted by pop-up ads or in-app purchases needed to move to another level or gain some new tools. That led to a discussion about “business models” and a reminder that non-tech games don’t have those intrusions.

Nor do games that you make and create yourself …

Good Game Design

Bad Game Design
Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Go, Girls

(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments. You write, too.)

SOL

They were standing in line, waiting to put the laptops back on the computer cart. We’d been gaming in the classroom, working with Gamestar Mechanic to begin the process of understanding video game design by playing and analyzing games. This week, they will start the initial stages of storyboarding and building their own science-based video games.

“Girls don’t like video games,” he said to no one in particular, and there was a moment of silence as all the girls turned around to stare at him. He seemed taken aback. “I mean, they don’t right? Girls don’t like video games?”

He spoke that last line as if he walked into a pit of vipers because there was a sudden burst of loud response from the girls. I think I saw a few of his friends shake their heads, knowing what was coming.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Of course, I like video games. I’m probably better than you.”

“We may not like the same games, but we like games.”

He seemed a bit shaken by the response. That’s good.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled, and that gave me a teaching moment to talk to the class about the stereotypes we have of gender and technology. It’s true not every girl likes video games. Not every boy likes video games, either. But some girls are great at both playing and designing video games. And we had just had a long discussion on game design elements, where plenty of girls shared deep thoughts about design and and the games they played. (Had he even been listening?)

I think he got it. I do. And if not, the girls are going to set him straight. Count on that.

Peace (in the room),
Kevin

Song Demo: Baby, I Found You

Writing a song ... Baby I Found You

I spent part of the day yesterday with my guitar, writing a song. The picture above shows the map of my ideas. I do a whole lot of scratching out, revising, moving words, adding chords when I write songs. I try to wrangle sense out of the ideas, and then hope that the words will be partners to the chords. Sometimes, it works. Often, not.

Anyway, this song came together over the course of the day, so I did a small demo recording with the Garageband app. If you are interested, you can give it a listen. This is another song that is not really all that in line with my rock band’s sound, so it may just sit on the burner for some time. It may be part of a longer project I have been working on for years that mixes songs and poetry to tell a story. It might just get forgotten. Who knows.

Listen to Baby, I Found You.

 

Peace (and thanks for listening),
Kevin

PS — want the words?

Baby, I Found You

Everybody says, the world is spinning ’round
I can’t catch my breath – I can barely make a sound
Still, I hear you out there on the wind
A voice calling me out, drawing me back in

Baby, I found you
Baby, I found you
Or maybe, you found me

I’ve been out wandering – this long, lonesome year
Holding on to memories I thought might disappear
It’s never been easy to let go of the past
You got it all covered — then along comes the crash

Chorus

I keep my eyes open to the ways of the world
Even when it’s broken, we find a way to heal
And I hear you out there on the wind
A voice calling me out, drawing me back in

Chorus